Naomi Zitin, 95, of Upper Gwynedd, who rose from a volunteer to become the first female leader of the board at North Penn Hospital, died Friday, Dec. 14, of pneumonia at Abington Hospital.
Ms. Zitin prepared for a career by volunteering with the North Penn Hospital Auxiliary starting in the 1960s, when she was in her early 40s. She became the auxiliary’s president in 1968 and then joined the hospital’s board of directors as its first female member in 1970. In 1997, she took over as the first woman to serve as board chairman of North Penn, now called Abington-Lansdale Hospital.
“I think my mother was a quiet feminist heroine in the best sense,” said son Daniel. “She simply did, in the earliest dawn of a new consciousness, what now seems perfectly natural for women: She took a step forward from what might have been seen as limitations and served her community.”
Born in Philadelphia, Ms. Zitin was the daughter of N. Stanley Vogel and Elizabeth Serfer Vogel. She grew up in West Mount Airy and graduated from Philadelphia High School for Girls. Because her father frowned on girls attending college, she took a clerical job in Philadelphia.
In 1943, she married Willard Zitin after meeting him on a blind date. The couple moved in 1958 from West Oak Lane to Montgomeryville, where they collaborated on a horse business called Meadow Lane Farm, which was her husband’s dream. People of all ages came to the equestrian academy to learn riding, hunting, and how to show their mounts to best effect at events such as the Devon Horse Show.
In 1963, Ms. Zitin read The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. Inspired by the book and the spirit of the times, Ms. Zitin sought experience so she could pursue her own dream — a job outside the family business. She found she could juggle her duties at the equestrian academy with volunteer work at the hospital. She soon became head of its candy striper program.
She rose in the hierarchy of the hospital auxiliary, and as its president raised funds through the Charity Ball, Christmas Caravan, Fall Raffle, and a gift and snack shop. Then, starting in 1970, as a member of the hospital’s board of directors, she helped make policy decisions.
Shirley Guernaccini, who became the second female board member, said the two women had to stick together to be heard.
“When one of the businessmen on the board addressed his colleagues, he would say, ‘Gentlemen,’ and Naomi and I would pipe up and say, ‘And ladies.’ We had a lot of disagreements with the men. We didn’t keep our mouths shut.”
During Ms. Zitin’s tenure as a board member, a facility for the Visiting Nurse Association and a day-care center were built on the hospital grounds, and dedicated birthing rooms were created within the obstetrics service.
As chairman of the board – that term was used throughout her tenure, because the language had yet to catch up with the changing times -- she advanced many women’s health initiatives. Her proudest achievement was the 1999 introduction of the facilities needed to process rape kits at North Penn. At that time, the closest such program was at Doylestown Hospital. Montgomery County hadn’t had its own program.
The program, which was Ms. Zitin’s idea, consisted of seven specially trained on-call nurses who treated injuries, collected evidence, and arranged for follow-up care for rape victims. Mary Onama, the executive director of Montgomery County’s victim services center, told the Allentown Morning Call in May 1999 that the North Penn program was a welcome addition to the county.
Ms. Zitin also supervised the 2002 sale of North Penn to Universal Health Services. Universal retained Ms. Zitin as a board member from 2003 until 2008, when the conglomerate sold the facility to Jefferson Health-Abington.
In her later years, once the horse farm was sold. Ms. Zitin traveled widely with her husband. After he died in 2009, she consulted with the management of Abington-Lansdale Hospital and remained friends with a group of women she had taught to ride.
In addition to her son, she is survived by another son, Gary, and a grandson.
Plans for a memorial are pending.